Nourishing Networks: The Public Culture of Food in New Orleans, 1800–1950 (expected publication date: 2025)

Nourishing Networks examines how diverse communities of New Orleanians exercised agency and built community through the daily work of provisioning a city, work which was always about more than just sustenance. As vendors and their customers came together to buy and sell fresh products and prepared foods, they negotiated prices, discussed quality of foodstuffs, and exchanged gossip and news. The daily exchange of food sat at the heart of community life in New Orleans as it did in most cities that grew up around the trade and exchange of goods.

Throughout the nineteenth and into the twentieth century, street food businesses and public food markets played a crucial role in provisioning New Orleans, together making up the city’s public food culture. This book examines this public food culture and how it worked to feed urban residents; how food distribution centers shaped the physical and social environment of the rapidly growing city; what the economic and cultural consequences of regulation were for New Orleans and its residents; and what factors led to the eventual weakening of the city’s public food culture, as by 1950, the public food markets had disappeared. Above all, the book focuses on relationships between vendors, their customers, and the local government officials that regulated the sale and distribution of food. These people, the connections they forged among one another, and the goods they sold, consumed, and regulated, make up New Orleans “nourishing networks.”

America’s Unknown Celebrity Chef: The Lena Richard Story (expected publication date: 2025)

In October 1949, something remarkable happened: an American cooking show starring a Black chef—and even more remarkably, a Black female chef—aired on TV for the first time. The show was Lena Richard’s New Orleans Cook Book, and its star, New Orleans native Lena Richard, was the first African American chef with her own TV program. Nearly 15 years before Julia Child’s The French Chef aired and decades before The Food Network, Mama Lena, as Lena Richard was better known, became one of America’s first celebrity TV chefs. Though she was nationally known at the time, today very few people outside of culinary circles know about her or her incredible life and legacy.

Mama Lena’s inspiring story is one of resilience, tenacity, and passion. The barriers she surmounted and the paths she forged for future generations through her work in food and beyond are extraordinary. Though she currently may be America’s unknown celebrity chef, she is about to reclaim her rightful place in American food history alongside such iconic trailblazers as Edna Lewis, Georgia Gilmore, Leah Chase, Cecilia Chiang, and Julia Child.

In America’s Unknown Celebrity Chef: The Lena Richard Story, I team up with Lena Richard’s granddaughter, Paula Rhodes, to share the story of one of America’s most groundbreaking chefs. We share Mama Lena’s history through stories from her extended New Orleans “family”—made up of relatives and close friends—and archival and field research, including materials housed at the Smithsonian Institution. Included will be images from the Smithsonian’s archives, and others across the country, that contextualize Lena’s experiences. As personal and intimate as it is deeply researched, America’s Unknown Celebrity Chef combines recollections and cultural context for Mama Lena’s work, as recounted by Paula Rhodes—herself an international human rights educator, activist, and attorney—and the thorough detail and historical context of my archival research.